Friday, August 6, 2010

Alphabet & Pronunciation

This post suggests an Alphabet & Pronunciation for a proposed "learn it all in half a day" universal language.

Firstly, an alphabet.
Pictograms, as used in Chinese & Japanese, have some advantages, can be recognised & read more quickly by trained users, take up less space, etc.
They have 3 overwhelming disadvantages though:
They offer no clue to pronunciation.
You need to learn several thousand.
They can't be used on popular western keyboards.
I think that rules them out for an easy-to-learn language.

Syllabic representation, such as Japanese Hiragana & Katakana deal with the pronunciation problem, but require learning over 50 symbols, unfamiliar to 95% of the world's population.
And need a special keyboard.

So a conventional western alphabet seems the simplest solution.
But selected so that each symbol represents one & only one sound. (unlike: calorie/celery, gin/gun, icicle, bet/beet…)
And each sound is represented by one & only one symbol. (unlike: cake, space, beet/beat, physics/fizz …)
And no sound is represented by a combination of letters which does not logically produce that sound. (qu, th, ch, sh, ph…)
For simplicity & keyboard-friendliness, I would avoid accents and also symbols which are only found in a limited number of languages.
Actually, that is one of the problems with Esperanto, invented before keyboards…

So, I end up with the following 24 letters (& corresponding sounds from English in brackets):
a(bat) – b(bat) – d(dot) – e(bet) – f(fit) – g(got) – h(hit) – i(hit) – j(job) – k(kit) – l(lit) – m(mat) – n(not) – o(dot) – p(pat) – r(rat) – s(sat) – t(tap) – u(pull not gull) – v(vat) – w(wit) – x(axe) – y(yob not many) – z(zap).

Eliminating (from a qwerty keyboard): c & q

I have lost these extremely common sounds:
u(cup) – e(err) – th(thin) – th(this) – ch(chat)
Which is a pity, but trying to get them back would introduce complications I don't want.

Pursuing radical simplicity, I propose to do without capital letters.
Current users of western alphabets will find that excessive.
My doubts started when I came across Japanese Hiragana & Katakana.
2 completely different sets of symbols, to represent the same set of sounds.
And you need to learn both to cope with any text including traditional & imported words.
I thought that was obviously an extravagance.
Then I looked at western capital & lower-case letters & realized that there too were 2 sets of almost-entirely different symbols representing the same sounds.
If capital letters had been just bigger copies of small-case, that would have been OK.
So, to speed up learning by non-westerners (though I admit that almost everybody recognises these letters now) I want to do without capitals.
I am encouraged by the fact that more & more kids, these days, have stopped using capitals, because they are too lazy to do the keyboard shifting which it requires.
I admit it makes blocks of text less easy to split into sentences.
I could still change my mind on this one.

The end result is that you can pronounce any word you see printed & you can write any word you hear.

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